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Silicon Alleys: Tandoori Fusion Grill Gets a Makeover

A new mural adds some life to Tandori Fusion Grill in San Jose
A new mural by Patrick Hofmeister adds some life to Tandori Fusion Grill at 225 E Santa Clara St. in San Jose.

If the hideous beige buildings of downtown San Jose tend to bring you down, if the neighborhood's decades-old color palette of faded brown, off-white and jaundice yellow depresses you, then hire Patrick Hofmeister. Especially if you're trying to bootstrap an Indian fusion restaurant.

Situated directly across from City Hall in a location formerly occupied by a seedy pho joint, Tandoori Fusion Grill opened a few years ago, but now finds itself with a brand-new matrix of resources. Hofmeister initially showed up as a customer, but soon realized he could provide additional skill sets and connections to accentuate the eatery's already intriguing culinary delights. As a result, he became business partners with owner Jagath Ranasinghe, who then gave Hofmeister an opportunity he couldn't pass up.

A self-taught surrealist painter born and raised in San Jose, Hofmeister had previous Indian restaurant management experience under his belt but was not intending to return. However, with the current generation of mural artists helping to transform the dumpier parts of downtown into something we can finally brag about, Hofmeister realized he could contribute in his own way. The time was right and Ranasinghe gave him 100 percent creative freedom to paint what he wanted.

"That was a key element," Hofmeister said. "I was like, 'I'm doing this, I'm taking an opportunity for myself and I'm seizing it.' I know it's going to be difficult, I'm not expecting it to be a cakewalk—I'm definitely not expecting all of a sudden to paint something and then, 'if they build it, they will come'—so that's why I jumped on it. It just seemed like opportunities have always missed me, and here's one, so am I going to take it or not?"

So far, the transformation is a work in progress, but gone is the previous facade, the color of which resembled dark sewer algae. The henna-like maroon and mango patterns on the new facade explode against an otherwise colorless block of buildings. Inside the restaurant, one wall is now transformed into a faux wood carving. Another wall features a common Indian crane against a similarly maroon and mango background. The buffet still dominates at lunchtime, while more subtle candlelit atmospherics takeover for dinnertime. It's still a casual joint—you order dinner at the counter and then sit down—but it feels much more authentic. Either reggae or South Asian downtempo envelops the customers upon entrance. Gone is the FM-radio classic rock from speakers with no bass. Apparently people don't need to hear Huey Lewis tunes blasting between mattress commercials while devouring their aloo saag. In any case, the new look is already working.

"I had a guy come over from city hall," said Hofmeister, "and while I was in there having lunch, he said, 'I've never seen this place before.' And he worked across the street. That was perfect."

Hofmeister already paints exquisite and complicated works on canvas. His art studio and collective, DDEF, stands for dream daringly, execute fearlessly. A partnership with Tandoori Fusion Grill makes sense, as Ranasinghe, originally from Sri Lanka, conjures up some creative dishes. Instead of textbook Tandoori chicken, for example, there's a "Chicken Sizzler," and several adventurous fusion concepts. But now, with Hofmeister's crew upgrading the physical atmospherics, the next era shall commence. Hofmeister's assistant, Jason DeRosa, helped with the lion's share of the remodel.

"We installed lighting, we did sound, we built walls," Hofmeister said. "He repaired walls, he did plumbing, he did the water heater—the list goes on and on and on. And because he's such a good friend of mine, he really wants to be a part of this, too. And now he's working there in the evening. Without him, it couldn't have been done."

I predict that Ranasinghe and Hofmeister (sounds like a techno band) will be the new "East West Connection" of downtown San Jose. Mark my words.

"There's going to be bad days—I'm totally aware of it, and it's okay if we win or lose," Hofmeister said. "The point is that I'll give it my all, you know?"